How to think about Internet architecture from a human rights perspective

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Internet architecture and human rights

— There are conversations about how certain pieces of the internet relate to human rights. If we think in terms of layers, there is a lot of discussion about the top layer of applications: the human rights implications of social media networks. However, here are many more layers we are ignoring. We are worried about encryption of conversation, but we don’t think of the breaches of privacy built into internet protocol. Cables in the sea are designed and developed by internet protocol bodies which are not famous for their openness despite the fact that they actually are open. There are spaces of decision-making that can be occupied by civil society, lawyers, advocacy; but people don’t realize this. The stakeholders you see in these spaces come from big telecommunications companies.

What does a study group to understand these issues look like? The purpose of this NPDev conversation was to brainstorm key concepts and resources that should be part of the curriculum of such study group; and to identify helpful questions for discussion.

Resulting concepts

ISPs - Internet Service Providers: how they came to be and what exactly they are; how they handle your data; tier 1 providers (wikipedia)

Energy and environment - energy consumption of the internet

Encryption - how encryption works and how it doesn’t; at rest vs in transit; through the different layers and what that means

Security - firewalls deep packet inspection to prevent/monitor access

Physicality of the internet - physical layer (fiber, ethernet, etc); the physical threats to the internet (and it’s stability, access to it, etc), what the cloud actually is (someone else’s computer)

Open governance - conversation with one active member of each relevant governance group, social construction of tech/infrastructure; federated or centralized architecture; how to diminish provider access and context over user history; who has access to the backbone of the internet; how can control of infrastructure be decentralized and be democratized; systems of governance around infrastructure; conviviality; sociotechnical imaginaries and shaping of policy of infrastructure; what barriers exist to free, low cost access to learners and public services; how does talk about internet governance tie into telecom governance landscape.

Routing - How do we transition from internet institution-centric routing to human-centric routing; what can be done to diminish provider control of content access and speed, understanding routing protocols, BGP, what do we mean by connection TCP/IP and UDP/IP, how data is chopped up into packets

Naming - Are there secure and private tlds, dns, dns address book, how do we give humans direct democratic sovereignty in shared naming systems.

Peering - Autonomous Zones + Peering. BGP. Control of IP address space. Peering agreements. What is peering and why it matters. IXP.

Server - Servers that serve/store data; content delivery systems, warehouse-scale computers and data centers; caching infrastructure (google caching)

Effective communication - Useful metaphors for unfamiliar tools, details; effective metaphors for conceptualizing the infrastructure of the internet; visualizing the route of a piece of data

Ownership - Ownership of infrastructure, from modem to IXP. Who owns the air? Open Spectrum policy! Who owns the routers, servers, storage and connections? Who owns the cables? Alternative approaches to current systems of infrastructure ownership. Leasing local media.

Existing resources - ISOC and DIplo internet governance intro courses, how the internet works game pieces by Mariel, CIRA (Critical Infrastructures Research Alliance), Networking and top down approach


Existing resources have their own sets of bias. Some internet governance organizations have proprietary approaches.

We have a section on governance but not one on people.

In focusing on architecture and infrastructure, it stopped being a story of the people, and it is a pedagogical challenge

What the cloud is, what DNS is, are pieces of knowledge only held by technical people and we need to make them more accessible

Data Roads Foundation name came up as a response to the “internet made of tubes” analogy

Excitement to see open governance and ownership come up. How do we build pirate architecture?

Storytelling around the histories and translation issues of internet governance

Key questions to unpack through a study group

How to effectively translate technical knowledge in a way that is useful for non technical audiences?

How to burn what exists and restart the way better?

How do we center user needs in development rather than how to adapt users to the developments?

How to read, do an annotation of these technical papers, as I walk through and read them?

What would be the interest in a mailing list and keeping the discussion running?